Truly an Evening at Jacques

Sam Houston State University’s Musical Theatre Department’s musical revue of songs from Belgian composer Jacques Brel was a show to see. If you are a musical theatre lover, like myself, then this production, composed of 22 musical numbers with little to no spoken word in between, will leave you wanting a 23rd act.

The songs performed in the revue were so diverse it made you wonder how Director Dr. Laura Avery intertwined them so seamlessly together. There were songs about love, childhood, lost loves, war and a few whimsical tunes to lighten the mood.

The show was set in a jazz club in Montmartre Arrondissement, a district in Paris, and the scenery displayed on stage made the audience feel as though we were in that exact spot. From the very top of the stage came down a panel with the name ‘Jacques’ written over it with cut outs that were meant to display windows and a larger cut out to represent the entrance into the club. From the audience’s point of view, it looks as though we are looking into the club from the windows. At times, the panel would fly in and out of the scene depending on if the song called for it.

When the panel was not displayed, the setup of the bar was very detailed and had strong notes of realism. There were old style tables and chairs to fit with the 1960’s theme. The bar was made of what looked like real wood and the bottles kept behind the bar looked as if you could really have a drink in this club. On the apron of the stage there was a street-looking set that had street lights posted on both ends of the stage and a bench where a few musical numbers were enacted. There were also set tables for potential customers to sit outside, enjoy a cup of tea and listen to the music pouring out of the club. The set really helped me as an audience member delve into the world that was Jacques’.

The show was sung from beginning to end. The songs were placed in an order that truly told a story of each patron in the club. Many of the performers in the production played more than one role. For example, there was one performer who went from an average patron in the club to being a gypsy on the street singing of the devil.

The costume aspect of the show helped with the distinction of the new characters. The costumes for each character in the bar fit the song or songs they were singing as well as what kind of person they were trying to portray. Even the costumes for the band for this show blended in perfectly. The band was composed of a drummer, guitarist, pianist, bassist and a reeds player. In most musicals a live band is common, but you don’t see the band. However, this band was in plain sight and it fit with the story being told.

After six songs in a row, I needed a little bit of a breakup between numbers. Even though there was no spoken relief, there were dance numbers throughout the show. I feel that the dances added another element to a number rather than taking away from the message of the song. The dances were a welcomed distraction from the rhythm of the song-after-song show.

In conclusion, I had a wonderful evening at Jacques’. I was in awe of the musical talent we have here at SHSU. There was a beautiful range in vocal talents and each song told a different tale. After seeing this show I am excited to see what other musical journeys SHSU’s Department of Theatre and Musical Theatre will embark on.

photo credit: Gavin Calais

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